MIXING UP SUCCESS with
MASTER BLENDERS WRITTEN BY GABE TOTH
istilling creates whiskey. When a whiskey earns praise, it is often the distiller in the spotlight. Heck, countless places include “distilling” or “distillery” in their name. But often, blending is the secret sauce. An expert blender can elevate a spirit with the right touch, or take a barrel of stock that’s not up to snuff, pair it with the right complements, and produce a high quality product. The blender may be the distiller, selecting individual barrels for a blend of 5, 10 or 20 barrels. On the other hand, the blender may instead be a specialist considering lot years with known profiles and calculating blends of hundreds of barrels at a time. Blending can be used to maintain product consistency from batch to batch. Some distillers have a specific profile that their spirit needs to meet, and they choose barrels based on hitting specific flavor notes which are key components of their whiskey. They may use a formula, or just a rough guideline, knowing that a specific number of barrels with specific profiles will put them in range of their target. Blending can also be used to create novel flavors that couldn’t otherwise be achieved. The flavor profile of a light, fruity whiskey aged in port casks and blended with a peated whiskey aged in bourbon casks could never be achieved by distilling and aging a single spirit. We asked two highly acclaimed blenders, operating at widely varying scales, to share some of their thoughts and considerations on the art and science of blending.
RANDY HUDSON Randy Hudson is the owner and distiller at Triple Eight Distillery in Nantucket, Mass. His 12-year Notch single malt whiskey is one of the most awarded American whiskeys, earning top prizes at the World Whiskies Awards, the San Francisco World Spirits Competition, the American Craft Spirits Association, and the American Distilling Institute, to name a few. “I think what guides me most is not looking for a formula or a consistency in the actual product, but a consistency in the quality of the product,” says Hudson. “We’re a tiny distillery, and we’re doing a lot of 8-12 (year), I have some 15-year-old barrels. I’m just trying to put out as good a whiskey as I possibly can with what I have.” While not being dogmatic about trying to match the exact same profile every batch, he does have certain notes that he wants to hit. Triple Eight has a good stock of sherry casks, as well as new oak, used bourbon, and other types of barrels to draw from. “You do what you can when you’re a small distillery like us without much buying power. We’ve been really lucky to get some great sherry casks,” he says. “I’m a little bit of a sherry nut, but I like it only so far. I want it balanced.” Balancing the darker dried fruit notes from some of his older whiskies is inevitably a little bit of spice, but he also looks for barrels that have a little bit of sweetness. “I’m always looking for barrels that will add a juiciness to the